Oil: Weight-Loss, Taste, and Health
The following article is the final post in a three-part series on common food additives. The first post on salt can be read here, and the second post on refined sugar can be read here. It is recommended that all three are read to gain a full understanding of each of the additives role in the areas of taste sensitivity, weight gain and overall health. As previously stated, this is not fear mongering or click-bait intended to make sensational or exaggerated health claims. These articles present credible scientific research (all of which is linked) to educate the reader and in turn empower them to make better dietary choices for their health. As you will see below, scientific research directly opposes the widely held belief that oil, at least certain oils, are health food.
The use of the term oil refers to all plant extracted, non-animal-based oils. This includes but is not exclusive to olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, rapeseed oil, canola oil, sunflower, soybean oil. The reader may hold the belief that some of the listed sources of oil are health-promoting (such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, or cold pressed rapeseed oil) while others are damaging to one's health (sunflower, soybean etc.). All oil has a similar effect on the body regardless of its source or variation in production method, which is discussed further below. Whenever a particular form of oil (coconut, olive etc.) is an exception to a rule or has its own unique effects on the body, this will be explicitly stated.
What is Oil?
Oil is a highly refined, heavily processed food additive found in almost all packaged food items and a staple in almost all recipes and cooking methods worldwide. It is almost 100% fat and is the most calorie dense, nutrient deficient substance found in the human diet. It is viewed in the western world as having exceptional health benefits, and this is due almost entirely to its association with the "Mediterranian diet".
The "Mediterranean diet" and its health benefits were first discovered in the 1950s, with research carried out on the Greek island of Crete. It was found that heart disease rates were 20 times lower than that of the US, and both cancer and death rates were among the lowest in the world. Unsurprisingly, the health benefits were due to the population eating a diet which was 90% plant-based. Today, pizza, pasta, and oil-laden salad dressings are the standard Mediterranean diet. The modern diet bears little or no resemblance to the healthy, 90% plant-based diet of 1950s Crete, but is incorrectly marketed as having the same health benefits.
It must be noted that the information below applies to all plant oils, regardless of its origin fruit or production method (such as cold pressed, extra virgin etc). Cold pressed oils retain small amounts of the phytonutrient content of the original plant source, such as olive oil, but retention is minimal. The harmful effects of oil on arterial function can be offset by consuming large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables simultaneously.
High-fat diets cause weight gain, and oil is 100% liquid fat. Concern is often placed on refined sugar and its role in weight gain, but it is seldom reported that oil contains twice as many calories per gram as refined sugar. While calories are not the defining factor in what is healthy and what is not (to illustrate, consider that 100ml of diet coke contains 0 calories while 100ml of any fresh fruit or vegetable juice contains considerably more calories, but is indeed healthier) oil is heavily processed and contains empty calories, devoid of almost all nutrients.
Human taste buds are sensitive to sugar, salt and fat. Millions of years of evolutionary biology crafted the brain to release pleasurable chemicals in response to eating these foods to ensure future consumption and therefore survival. However, in the modern world, our primitive circuitry is hijacked by processed versions of sugar, salt, and fat. This leads to habituation and taste bud numbing over time, requiring constantly increasing levels to achieve basic pleasure levels.
Human arteries are paralyzed for up to 3 hours after eating high fat animal products, and the same occurs with the consumption of olive oil. This is has been shown in olive, palm oil, and even cocnut oil. In fact coconut oil, promoted as healthy by multiple sources, is one of the rare plant sources of saturated fat. Dietary saturated fat is the no.1 cause of heart disease. Saturated fat in coconut oil raises LDL or "bad" colesterol in the blood. While coconut oil is not as harmful as animal fat, it still has a negative effect on ones colesterol levels.
Oil is not health food. It is high in calories, notably the highest calorie food we consume and is almost completely devoid of nutrients. Some production methods, such as cold pressing, ensure that the oil retains a small number of phytonutrients. As detailed in a previous post, it is these phyto or plant nutrients which play a vital role in the disease prevention, halting and reversal that is attributed to a plant-based diet. It is a widely held belief that the health benefits of the coveted Mediterranean diet is due to olive oil consumption; in fact, it is the inclusion of phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables which trump the negative effects of oil consumption and promote health in the body overall. Eating whole olives is a significantly healthier choice than consuming the oil extracted from it, whatever the method.
One should always be mindful of the overall nutrient content of the foods one chooses to eat. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain macronutrients, micronutrients, phytonutrients, water and fibre, all of which are key elements in achieving a healthy state of being. A healthy diet is achieved through complex biochemical processes which result in thousands of nutrients working synergistically in the body; It is not simply the result of consuming a substance which happens to be particularly high in 1 class of nutrient. A salad of fresh fruits and vegetables is even more beneficial for your health when covered in an oil-free homemade dressing. Studies on oil have shown that fat is important as it improves the absorption of certain nutrients. This can be achieved through the consumption of whole sources such as nuts or avocados. Use oil sparingly to avoid excess consumption in your diet. This will lead to healthy arterial function, weight loss and improved health over time.
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